The ‘Middle’ Of Creativity And Innovation

“Innovation depends on actions and ideas that are new. You can’t extend the limits of possibility without someone doing what has never been done before. There’s sometimes temporary safety in the middle but there is nothing better in the median.”  -Max McKeown from his upcoming The Innovation Book

The problem is…

We like the concept of new, a heck of a lot more than we truly like the new. We like the sound of creativity, much more than we like the chaos and messiness that often accompanies it. And we like the notion of innovation infinitely more than we like the change and disruption that escorts in innovation.

The problem is…

Most organizations, push the median. It is safe and reliable. There is a comfort and predictability that can be found in the middle. Safety and comfort that is not to be found in new ideas, creativity, and innovation.

What we often forget is…

For all our worries about the paralyzing effect of fear in our organizations, safety can also sound the sirens that call us back to the shores of the status quo.

“The truth is that progress depends on stability and instability.” -Max McKeown

The problem is…

In most organizations, we struggle to stand strong in that instability. We struggle to venture into those unknown spaces that new ideas, creativity and innovation force us into. Instead we look for the middle lane. Not too fast, not too slow.

The problem is…

Most often, that is the path to mediocrity. And while there are no horrendous failures to be had, neither are there any big wins. Just incremental movement. Sheltered and secure.

The problem is…

While the middles keeps you insulated from the chaos and anxiety that happens at the outer fringes, it is also removes you from the learning, ideas and thinking that push possibilities in that same space.

What we often forget is…

The moment you think you got things figured out, just as quickly you discover otherwise. And more often than not, what was right today, has changed tomorrow. And what was right tomorrow, has changed the next day. And so on and so on. As our realities change, so do our answers. Which means, that inevitably, our inability to ask different questions, will do little to push forward against those changing realities and impending irrelevance.

It is only when we are willing to explore where we’ve never been before, that we are able to see things we’ve never seen, to think things we’ve never thought, and to engage ideas that we’ve never considered. It is the place where creativity and innovation come together.

The problem is…

This will not be easy. Actually, it will be extremely difficult. It will be messy, riddled with turbulence and anxiety. It will not only push us out of our comfort zone, it will push us into areas of unknown. Where questions lead to more questions, before they lead to answers.

But if we truly want to engage the creativity we crave and the innovation that ignites our organizations, we will have to learn to contend with these forces, “stability and instability.” Knowing we can’t ultimately control them, but we can certainly survive and learn to live with and guide them.

“Only the incurably creative retain their everyday ability to generate divergent ideas. They are the novelty outliers, the future builders.”  -Max McKeown from his upcoming ‘The Innovation Book’


Ideas Of The Mind (Wandering, Divergent And Flipped)

Creativity has a tendency to lead us to more inventive thinking and ideas…

Access to more novel and new ideas heightens the opportunity for greater experimentation and innovation…

All of which, come from people.

If you want more ideas, more creativity, more innovation…

Then find more ways to support and engage this in your people and organization.

In many organizations, we are so intent on the problems and walls that stand before us, that we never allow ourselves the time necessary to think past, around or beyond them. We spend our waking time and mental capacity being now-focused. Completely immersed in plodding forward…and pushing those walls and obstacles with us. Never realizing that taking a step back will not only improve our perspective, but unveil a variety of routes forward that may have not been noticeable, previously.

It is in that backward step, we provide the room (and time) for perspective-taking, a space where we can allow for new ideas and new ways of thinking to take shape and evolve.

However, in much the same way that good is the enemy of great, very often, incremental progress stands as the nemesis too experimentation, creativity, and innovation. Which always leads us to, why fix what isn’t broken? A mindset we must eventually break. If creativity and innovation will be the vehicle that pushes our organizations into the future, then ideas will be fuel that feeds them both. And the more, the better.

Which is why that time and space will be so crucial…

Which reminds us, if we are ever going to move from ‘how we’ve always done things’ to the possibility of things we’ve never consideredwe are going to need an ongoing and constant flow of ideas.

From every level of the organization.

In order to engage more creative and innovative ideas and thinking across our organization, we are going to have to engage what Scott Barry Kaufman refers to in his book, Ungifted as mind-wandering.

And to do this, we are going to have to create more space (by taking that step back) for thinking to occur…

It is through his research in Ungifted that Kaufman found mind wandering allows you to make constructive, adaptive choices regarding the future.”

Providing the conditions for mind wandering to occur has a tendency to facilitate “compassion, future planning, self-regulation, and divergent thinking.”  Kaufman adds,“It is these spaces, when available, that allow for mind wandering, that enhances the overall creativity and innovative thinking of our individuals, and our organizations.”

So, if we know we want more creative and innovative individuals and organizations. If we acknowledge that ideas are the fuel to this creativity and innovation. Then we can begin to see why mind wandering is so important to supporting more creative and innovative organizations. Mind wandering creates increased levels of divergent thinking, which in turn, is the type of thinking necessary for creating more ideas. But, much like creativity, mind wandering doesn’t operate at its highest level when left wide open, rather, it requires constraints. And in much in the way it does with creativity, constraints help push and focus our mind wandering.

It is in his research, that Scott Barry Kaufman found that the performance of divergent thinking (creating ideas) showed greater improvement when there was an incubation period. Which means that we have a tendency to improve our divergent thinking around a problem, a question, or even a new way of doing when we’ve allowed not only time for mind wandering, but an incubation period alongside that mind wandering. Coupling mind wandering with a period of incubation leads to overall improvement in our divergent thinking, which deepens our well of ideas.

Which is why a flipped model of leadership can be incredibly beneficial. It gives leaders space for that mind wandering and incubation to occur, time for ideas and information to percolate and simmer.

Putting people on the spot, especially in meetings, without providing time for information to percolate, simmer and incubate, does nothing to improve the flow of new and novel ideas. Rather, without the necessary time for mind wandering, we will see a diminishing, rather than engaging effect of divergent thinking with our individuals, and our organization as a whole. Which in the end, determines the amount of new and novel ideas that we are able to amass.

At a time when ideas, creativity and innovation is at a premium, a flipped model of leadership can provide the necessary and needed space for ideas and divergent thinking to gain traction and momentum. Ultimately, supporting more creativity and innovation, in our individuals and our organizations.

“When you don’t allow time to mind wander or make space for reflection, you are limiting your chances for making insights. Aha moments don’t come from a directed and particular focus on a task, but by letting your mind wander and open up to other possibilities.”  -Scott Barry Kaufman

References and quotes from…

Kaufman, Scott Barry.  Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness.  2013.  Basic Books, New York.

Organizational Flows: The Connection To Better Ideas, Creativity And Innovation

Today’s creative and innovative organizations have effectively learned to create bridges and connections that span the divide that has continually existed between those making the decisions, and those doing the work.

More and more often we hear how today’s ‘creative leaders’ not only understand, but acknowledge and embrace the concept that great ideas can, and do come from anywhere. And yet, many of today’s organizations still construct hierarchical charts and retain structures that inhibit and impede this from ever occurring.

Creating organizational divides that engage an ‘us vs. them’ mindset at many levels…

Whereas, today’s innovative and creative organizations and leaders work to effectively span the divide that exists between those making the decisions and those doing the work. To break down those ‘us vs.them’ mindsets that pervade their environments, culture and organization. Which requires not only the understanding that great ideas can and do come from anywhere, but pushing beyond too infuse empathy and emotional intelligence into the process.

When ‘creative leaders’ infuse empathy and ‘seeing through the eyes of others’ into the decision-making process, they gain a greater grasp of how those, often off-the-cuff decisions, affect others deeply within the organization. Which can effectually break down those walls of misunderstanding and contention that can exist and reside within our organizations.

Eventually leading to stronger commitment and better trust…

When bridges of connection are built, organizational flows can cross over divides and structures which once hampered and diminished communication and collaborative processes.  Leading to the connections that enhance and deepen the ‘well’ of ideas, at all levels of the organization. Leading to more creativity, innovation and even new ways of thinking.

Too often, today’s organizations can’t reach these flows as they are mired in an ‘us vs. them’ mindset, holding back progress.

‘Creative leaders’ take the steps necessary to break down those divides that hamper communication and trust in the environment and culture. They learn how to loosen up the ground where many have emphatically dug in their heels.

When leaders can engage these collaborative flows, they often find that they have sparked and ignited the trust and commitment that leads to engagement, excitement, and eventually organizational excellence.

Excellence can never be achieved under an ‘us vs. them’ mindset. It is only when we break down these walls and cross the divide, can a ‘shared’ mindset create the environment and culture that will eventually lead to organizational excellence.

The Creative Leader Series: Part 9

“We like to pretend the gap from knowing to doing is small, but it’s enormous, and few people are willing to do the work to close that gap. It requires courage, persistence, comfort with risk, and a willingness to do work with no guaranteed external rewards.” -Scott Berkun ‘The Myths of Innovation’ (on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship)

Knowing to Doing…

A lot gets lost between that space occupied by to. Such a small word to represent such an incredibly vast space. And yet, that is often the way of life, as such small things often have such profound effect in our lives. It is this same dichotomy that presses in on being creative and understanding creativity. And for the creative leader, it is about accepting and embracing this duality. For, it is not enough to ‘know’ without ‘doing’ as it is not enough to ‘do’ without ‘knowledge’. Which is why creatives and creative leaders often need to embrace the dual nature of AND.

And while creativity might not be as difficult to conceptualize as we once thought, it is still complex. More and more we hear words such as persistence, perseverance, determination, and even perspiration tied to creativity, especially as we peel away the ingrained myths that still shroud and surround the idea of creativity as something granted to the artistic few. Complex in that we each have our own ideas and even falsehoods as to what, and even who we consider as creative.

And beyond the complexity of creativity itself, those looking to be more creative can often face a difficult and frustrating journey, proliferated by a lifetime of perseverance in the uphill battles faced from the plentitude of not enough’s that abound. As it is not enough to just have good ideas, if you can’t get those ideas across to other people. It is not enough to passionately understand why your idea is worthwhile, if you can’t get others to see the value. It is not enough to continually amass ideas, if you do not openly share or act upon them…

It is this duality (one AND the other, not one OR the other) that is present in the creative life that is imperative for today’s leaders to acknowledge, comprehend, and even embrace.

Yet, unfortunately, leaders still approach their position from a this or a that proposition. Many still struggle to understand that this dual nature does not have a diminishing effect on your leadership. It can, when embraced, actually enhance your effectiveness. When you begin to understand that you can be strong and vulnerable simultaneously, that you actually gain influence by letting go of power, or that you can lead and still be who you are at the same time.

Too often, leaders spend their time trying to prove that there are no chinks in the armor, than embracing their own, authentic self.

It is this “complex personality” and duality that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his work, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. This dichotomy that exists within the creative mind and personality, which he describes as the ”ability to move from one extreme to the other as the occasion requires.”

It is in Creativity that he lists a few of those AND’s that are a part of the dual nature that Csikszentmihalyi has discovered, through his research, to be lurking within the creative personality…

  1. “Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.”
  2. “Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naïve at the same time.”
  3. “A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.”
  4. “Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other. Both are needed to break away from the present without losing touch with the past.”
  5. “Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.”
  6. “Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.”
  7. “Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping (masculinity/femininity).”
  8. “Generally, creative people are thought to be rebellious and independent.”
  9. “Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.”
  10. “The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.”

While this list is not exhaustive, it is very representative of the dual nature that exists within many creative personalities.

And it is this duality that most leaders refrain from and avoid, even when it is part of their personality.

This list is not shared to infer that individuals and leaders need to engage these dual natures to be creative. Rather, this is shared in an effort to free creative individuals and leaders from hiding those personality contrasts that often rub against prevailing ideas on how a leader should be, or act. The idea that leaders must always be strong, decisive, and all-knowing. This super-hero portrayal of leadership that often gets in the way of not only our creativity, but being our truly authentic self.

Embracing this creative duality, can remove the veil that we often use to hide who we truly are, who we want to be, and how we want others to truly see us, as individuals and as leaders. It is when we realize that we can remove this mask, that we can begin to become the truly creative leaders that our organizations need to be led into the future. As well as creating the culture and environments necessary to bring out the creative and innovative best in others, and ourselves.

“Creativity is not abstract – it’s specific. It shows up only when you are trying to do some particular thing. This seems obvious, but you’d be amazed by how many people never even take the first step toward whatever it is they dream about everyday.” -Scott Berkun ‘The Myths of Innovation’